In wake of school shootings, lawmakers seek to implement better methods of reporting violence in Utah schools

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ST. GEORGE — In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, nearly a year ago, one Utah lawmaker is hoping to pass a bill that would appropriate more funding to schools for safety improvements and allow them to access better software in order to report threatening situations.

The Student and School Safety Assessment bill, designated as HB 120, has been in the works since the end of last year’s legislative session, Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, told St. George News. A Utah School Safety Commission and the Utah State Office of Education made recommendations last spring on how to improve safety in schools, and their recommendations resulted in HB 120.

“It kind of started right after the Parkland shooting in Florida,” Ward said. “So there was a desire to do whatever we could to make our schools as safe as we can.”

There are two key components to the bill, Ward said, one being the amount of money the bill would ask for. The bill asks for ongoing funding of $30 million per year to help hire school safety personnel, such as mental health counselors, social workers and law enforcement officers.

“It’s up to schools who they hire, and these are all kinds of people they already have,” he said, “but probably not enough.”

The other portion of funding the bill asks for is a one-time sum of $65 million that would be spread throughout schools across the state. Ward said this sum of money would allow schools to update equipment or buildings in order to make them safer. This could include updating a school’s front office to have a better intercom system or changing the nature of classroom doors.

The other key component to the bill, Ward said, is establishing a school safety center with employees in the Utah State Office of Education. Those employees would then be in contact with school safety and threat assessment teams in schools. Ward said the duties of those teams would be to look for two kinds of threats: someone who threatens violence against somebody else and a student who may be a threat against themselves.

“When we look at just the number of school-age students here in Utah who die, we have not yet had in Utah a death from a shooting at school,” he said. “And I’m not saying that we won’t because I’m sure that we will at some point.”

Ward said the number of students who die by suicide is very high compared to other states. He said by watching out for those students who seem to be struggling or may potentially harm themselves, the school safety and threat assessment teams could intervene when possible to get those student whatever assistance or help they need.

According to the bill, it would also require the Utah Board of Education to employ a law enforcement officer as a public safety liaison, who will then work with the Board of Education to do the following:

  • Support training with state agencies for school resource officers.
  • Organize the creation of policies and memorandums of understanding for local education agencies and local law enforcement agencies.
  • Ensure cooperation between state agencies, local education agencies and local law enforcement agencies.

The bill would also require a law enforcement officer who determines a student is a threat to himself or herself, a school employee or another student to notify a member of the school safety and threat assessment team in which the student is enrolled.

The bill would also direct the Board of Education to develop a secure software tool in order for local education agencies to report threatening situations, such as a violent incident or bullying.

Ward said there are already databases in place for schools to report incidents as required by law.

“Right now, the truth of it is that many of the things that the state law already requires are not getting reported because schools don’t have an easy uniform way to report them,” he said, adding that this software tool would make it easier for schools to report incidents.

The substitute bill for HB 120 currently has a favorable recommendation from the House Education Committee.

Read more: See all St. George News reports and opinions on Utah Legislature 2019 issues

Southern Utah Reps. Travis Seegmiller, Bradley Last, V. Lowry Snow, Walt Brooks, Rex Shipp, Merrill Nelson and Phil Lyman | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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